Ehud Olmert Confidante Shula Zaken Talks to Police

Former PM's lawyers expected to claim vengefulness by the disenchanted former bureau chief.

Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel
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Revital Hovel
Revital Hovel

Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s long-time bureau chief, Shula Zaken, testified to the police against her former boss yesterday, as a first step toward a possible plea bargain.

Both Olmert and Zaken are on trial in the Holyland corruption case, in which Olmert is charged with taking bribes from real estate developers while serving as mayor of Jerusalem and then as industry minister.

Under a deal reached between the prosecution and Zaken’s lawyer, Zaken gave her testimony to the police’s fraud squad yesterday. Police then sent the material to the prosecution, which will examine it and decide, within the next few days, whether it provides enough evidence against Olmert to justify a state’s witness agreement with her.

To obtain such an agreement, Zaken will have to provide material evidence to back up her claims, such as documents, tapes or diaries. Otherwise, prosecutors fear the court won’t believe her latest story, which is expected to contradict the two previous versions of events she has given.

Olmert’s attorneys will presumably try to undermine her testimony by claiming that her new story is motivated by revenge, given the recent rift between the long-time allies.

Even if a plea bargain is signed, Zaken is expected to serve jail time. She originally insisted on community service only, but recently backed down from that demand.

Until now, the case had appeared to be almost over: Both sides have already given their oral summations, and Tel Aviv District Court Judge David Rozen announced on Monday that he would issue a verdict on March 31. Thus even if the prosecution does sign a state’s evidence agreement with Zaken, it will need Rozen’s permission to recall her to the stand, since the law leaves that decision to the court’s discretion. “A court is permitted, if it sees a need to do so, to order a witness summoned – even if his testimony has already been heard by the court – or to order other evidence brought, whether at the request of the parties or at the court’s initiative,” the law states.

A retired judge, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Haaretz he expected Rozen would agree to hear the new evidence, because “the value of uncovering the truth takes precedence – and not just because of the public importance [of this case].” But another senior jurist, who also declined to be identified for this report, said that while Rozen would probably feel obligated to hear the new evidence if he had decided to acquit Olmert, he might not consider it necessary if he had already decided to convict the former premier.

Zaken’s attorney approached the prosecution about a plea deal after Olmert’s lawyer, Roy Blecher, charged in a television interview that Zaken had perjured herself in court when she said that money she received from Shmuel Dechner had been passed on to Olmert’s close friend, attorney Uri Messer, to cover Olmert’s campaign debts. Dechner, the state’s star witness, claimed to have served as the middleman in the alleged bribes. Blecher’s accusation infuriated Zaken and her family, and apparently eradicated whatever remained of her formerly staunch loyalty to her former boss.

But Zaken herself has changed her story more than once. For instance, Dechner testified that after a meeting with Olmert, he told her Olmert had sought financial help for his brother. Questioned by the police, Zaken replied, “It’s possible.” But in court, she flatly denied it.

Aside from the issue of the bribes allegedly paid by local real estate developers, another issue on which the prosecution hopes Zaken’s testimony will shed light is to whether Olmert was aware of the money his brother, Yossi, received from American Jewish businessman Morris Talansky.

During the course of the Holyland probe, police discovered that Talansky, a long-time donor to Ehud Olmert’s political campaigns, had transferred $30,000 to Yossi Olmert. But when questioned, Talansky said he didn’t know Yossi Olmert, and therefore presumed he had sent the money at Ehud Olmert’s request. He added that he obtained Yossi Olmert’s bank account number from Zaken.

Zaken is expected to support her new story by references to her diaries. Police obtained the diaries during an earlier investigation against Olmert, but weren’t able to make any use of them in that case because Zaken exercised her right to remain silent.

“Throughout the trial, a single clear picture has emerged – Olmert never received any bribes, not from Shmuel Dechner and not from anyone else,” Olmert’s media advisor, Amir Dan, said, adding, “And this picture won’t change. The prosecution is in serious trouble, and is being led astray by illusions and false statements that have nothing at all behind them ... Only a prosecution that fears the court’s verdict in this case could, at this [late] stage, promote such a bizarre agreement, whose real goal is to postpone the verdict for a long time and continue the inhumane campaign of persecution it has been waging against Olmert for many years now.”

Earlier this week, Zaken published a status on her Facebook page that described her own feelings on the matter: “It’s no secret that in recent days, my heart has been broken, and even the little joy of living that still remains to me has been almost extinguished.”

Shula Zaken and Ehud Olmert in court.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Shula Zaken. Hoping to avoid a long sentence.Credit: Michal Fattal

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